Mississippi Qui Tam Lawyer Discusses Environmental Whistleblowers

Most federal environmental laws were enacted between the 1960’s and 1980’s, although statutes designed to protect the environment, including waterways and harbors have existed for much longer. It is important to remember that many of these laws are not just intended to protect wildlife, but are designed to protect people from being exposed to contaminated drinking water, dangerous chemicals, and polluted air. When companies violate environmental laws, they could be exposing us all too serious health hazards.

In many cases, a violation of an environmental protection law will only be discovered by an employee of the violating company. This is why the environmental statutes provide whistleblower protections to employees who report conduct that violates the law.

Federal Environmental Statutes

There are seven federal statutes that designed to protect the environment, and that provide whistleblower protections. These are:

  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). This law sometimes referred to as the “Superfund Law,” creates regulations for disposing of and removing hazardous waste.
  • The Energy Reorganization Act, which is concerned with safety issues related to nuclear
  • The Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA, often called the “Clean Water Act”), which regulates water pollutants, discharge into waterways and creates standards for water quality.
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) set standards for drinking water quality and protects the public supply of drinking water.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place restrictions on chemicals and to set testing, reporting and recordkeeping requirements for chemicals.
  • The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to regulate air emissions and set air quality standards in order to protect the public from hazardous air pollution.
  • The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) sets regulations for the disposal and handling of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.

When a Whistleblower is protected

Among other things, employees are protected when they report violations of the law to the EPA, report to a supervisor concerning the violation, report to a media outlet, or refuse to partake in the illegal activity. The protections apply to formal employees but can extend even to independent contractors.

If an employee reports a suspected violation but turns out to be mistaken, that employee can still be covered by whistleblower protections. This is because the laws are designed to encourage people to speak out, and not to make people feel as though they have to conduct their own investigation before reporting the violation.

It is possible to engage in activities that would not be considered protected. For instance, if an employee engaged in a violent encounter with his or her supervisor over the violation occurring, and subsequently loses his or her job, the protections might not apply.

What the laws protect against

Employees are protected from “adverse actions” that are taken in retaliation for their reporting of a violation. Thus if an employee is fired, demoted, receives a pay cut or is looked over for a promotion as a result of their reporting of the violation, they can file a complaint with OSHA.

Of course, the employee will have to show a causal relationship between the adverse action and the whistleblowing activity. It is obviously unlikely that an employee receives a letter stating that they are being terminated because they reported the company to the EPA though, so inferences can be made. If you received positive work reviews for three years, and then were terminated shortly after speaking out about a violation, that would be evidence that the firing was connected to your status as a whistleblower.

Contact Barrett Law PLLC today

To learn more about how the seasoned Mississippi Qui Tam Lawyer at Barrett Law PLLC can help you, contact the firm at (800) 707-9577 today.

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